May 22, 2005

Understanding the Significance of Guantanamo: The Symbol of Omnipotent Power

As I indicated recently, Guantanamo holds a place of very special significance in Bush's "War on Terror." While most people sense that Guantanamo represents something that matters, and that matters a great deal, almost no one will be able to identify exactly why, if you were to question them on the point. What follows is at least part of that badly needed explanation.

The best and most comprehensive coverage of these issues of which I am aware is that provided by the invaluable and indefatigable Jacob Hornberger of The Future of Freedom Foundation. If you do not already visit that site regularly (and support its work, if you are able to), I very strongly recommend that you make it a daily stop.

For necessary background, you might begin with Hornberger's article explaining in detail why the writ of habeas corpus is the fundamental right for the political system originally envisioned by the founders of the United States. As our Supreme Court expressed it in 1969, the writ of habeas corpus is "the fundamental instrument for safeguarding individual freedom against arbitrary and lawless state action."

With that central point fixed firmly in our minds, consider this excerpt from Hornberger's article about the Jose Padilla case:
As I have been writing for the past two years, it is impossible to overstate the importance of the Jose Padilla case. The power assumed by the U.S. military and the Bush administration in the Padilla case constitutes what is arguably the most ominous and dangerous threat to the freedom of the American people in our lifetime.


Jose Padilla was arrested at a Chicago airport almost three years ago on suspicion of having conspired to commit terrorism. The ordinary procedure -- the procedure that has been followed in the United States since our nation's founding -- would have been to charge him with federal crimes dealing with terrorism, indict him, bring him to trial before a jury, and, if convicted, sentence him. That's the way the U.S. criminal justice system has worked for more than 200 years.

With Padilla, the Pentagon has tried to do something completely different, something that is alien to the American way of life, something that was obviously modeled on the procedures employed by the military regimes in Chile and Argentina, many of whose military officers were trained in detention and torture techniques by the Pentagon's very own School of the Americas, during their "wars on terrorism" in the 1980s. Securing a statement from President Bush that Jose Padilla was an "enemy combatant" in the "war on terrorism," the Pentagon took the position that it could bypass the entire federal criminal justice system set up by the Constitution, including rights and guarantees stretching all the way back to Magna Carta. These included habeas corpus, due process of law, trial by jury, and right to counsel.

The reason the Padilla doctrine is -- and should be -- so critically important to the American people is that if the federal courts uphold it, the doctrine will apply not just to Padilla but to all Americans. The reason that the Pentagon has limited the exercise of such power to only one American arrested on U.S. soil is obvious: it attracts much less attention from the public and, therefore, does not appear so threatening.

But make no mistake about it: If the Pentagon's power to arrest Americans for terrorism and punish them without federal court interference is upheld by the courts, the floodgates will be open to omnipotent military power in America. American life will never be the same again.
Life will be transformed by such power in ways unimaginable. No one will be safe from military arrest, including newspaper editors, government critics, and dissidents. Any person -- any person -- deemed to be an "enemy combatant" and taken into military custody will have no recourse to avoid punishment, except for the "good faith" of the Pentagon, the government organization that is responsible for plunging this nation into one of the most shameful torture, sex abuse, rape, and murder scandals in its history, not to mention the resulting cover-up.

There can be no doubt that the Pentagon is salivating over the possibility of wielding the same power over U.S. citizens that it has been wielding over foreigners ever since 9/11. This includes the power to send detainees to U.S. gulags in different parts of the world for indefinite detention and punishment without interference from the courts. It includes the outsourcing of detainees to friendly authoritarian regimes so that they, rather than U.S. officials, can do the torturing on behalf and for the benefit of the U.S. government. In fact, the Pentagon itself would admit that the very reason it set up its primary gulag in Cuba was to avoid the constraints of the Constitution and interference from the federal judiciary in its treatment of prisoners and detainees.
And that, in brief, is why Guantanamo is so crucial to the Bush's administration's goals in its war, a war that will be never-ending if it has its way: Guantanamo symbolizes the Bush administration's desire for omnipotent power -- for the administration to be able to do whatever it wants, with no oversight or interference by anyone, including the federal judiciary and including those restraints imposed by the Constitution itself.

In this manner, especially when coupled with the great danger represented by the Padilla case, the Bush administration seeks to place itself beyond all restraint derived from any source, and to make itself all-powerful. If it is successful, that will definitively and absolutely spell the end of liberty in America -- and the rest is only a matter of time, and of details. In this sense, it is entirely appropriate that Guantanamo is located where another omnipotent dictator already holds sway.

We should also note a recent mention of the Padilla case from earlier this month on Hornberger's blog (scroll down to May 9):
A front-page story in today's New York Times should give thinking Americans a good idea of how the Pentagon is leading America in a horrible direction with respect to its Padilla doctrine. With the Padilla doctrine, the Pentagon is fighting for the authorization to pick up any American, label him a suspected terrorist, and detain him forever without having to go through the hassles of prosecuting him in federal court and according him such constitutional guarantees as due process of law and trial by jury.

The New York Times article points out that indefinite detentions of suspected criminals, "a relic of the Mao era," are the way of life in communist China. The article states: "Locked inside more than 300 special prisons are an estimated 300,000 prostitutes, drug users, petty criminals and other political prisoners who have been stripped of any legal rights."

Bringing to mind the U.S. military's torture and sex abuse at Gitmo and Abu Ghraib, a Chinese prisoner stated that "guards often jolted inmates with electric cattle prods. Menstruating women were shackled standing against a board and then prevented from sleeping or going to the bathroom for several days."

As we have long maintained here at FFF, a Pentagon win in the Padilla case will transform American society in ways that the American people cannot even begin to imagine. Ironically, just when the Pentagon is fighting hard to move America in more communist direction, the communist regime in China "this year is expected to begin privately considering whether, and how, to change" its system of indefinite detention.
Just to repeat for emphasis: this must be the most horrifying irony of all. As China might begin "considering whether, and how, to change" its system of indefinite detention, our own government seeks to increase the reach of the identical policy -- so that it includes every American, including all of us here at home.

These are among the fundamental issues that neither the Bush administration nor its many defenders will ever acknowledge or discuss, and which our major media will never trouble themselves to explain to you. But such determined avoidance does not diminish the reality of these policies, or of their implications -- and it does nothing to diminish the ungraspably great danger we now face, a danger, I stress, not from any external enemy, but from our own leaders.

And these are among the reasons I consider Bush unquestionably to be the worst and most dangerous president of my lifetime -- and perhaps in all of American history. I only pray that irreversible damage does not occur before Bush leaves office. But I have to admit, very unhappily, that I am not prepared to place a bet on that proposition -- not any longer. The indisputable desire of this administration for absolute power over every single one of us cannot be denied. Bush and his defenders may refuse to acknowledge them, and our media may fail to discuss them, but those are the facts -- if one is willing to face them, and to admit what they mean.

Whether Bush and his enablers will admit it or not, in fact the policies they seek to implement would make the United States itself into one gigantic Guantanamo: where any one of us can be detained indefinitely merely upon the word or desire of one person, with no charges ever filed against us, and where we can be abused or tortured, and perhaps even murdered, at will. And no one and nothing would be able to stop or even question them. That's the future they want so desperately -- and I suggest that you always keep it in mind and never, ever forget it.

May 15, 2005

The Censorship Campaign Gets a Boost: Nothing but Good News 24/7, Please...and Don't Make Us Make You!

I'm certain that, very regrettably, there will be many more opportunities to address these issues further in the coming week, but here are a few prefatory observations. (Obligatory statement: if Newsweek made serious errors of judgment of any kind in reporting this story, then it should apologize and make any necessary corrections. But as we shall see, that it is not what the coming furor is about at all, and that is not where this game is being played.)

With regard to Newsweek's apology for errors it may have made in reporting the "Koran-flushing" story [link no longer working], let's get one basic error out of the way at the outset. Because the riots in Afghanistan came after the Newsweek piece, all the Bush-supporting advocates of "benevolent hegemony," to be brought to us courtesy of perpetual war, have already announced that Newsweek caused the riots. Little Green Footballs, which does not ever get a link here, has the most blatant assertion of this "argument": "The Jihad Newsweek Inspired." Oh, wait: I now see that Little Green Footballs has stiff competition from the usual source. Drudge has a huge headline which calls these events: "THE NEWSWEEK RIOTS." Half a point for clarity, Matt, even though you are completely, totally, unforgivably wrong.

This is an old, well-recognized logical fallacy. Read this, and that takes care of that in terms of the validity of the form of the argument.

But even with regard to the argument's substance, there are significant other factors that might have led to the riots -- particularly now, and particularly where they began. This entry identifies some of them. Most significant, in terms of the Newsweek story, is the fact that reports about the desecration of the Koran at Guantanamo have been available since as early as July 2004. And here, in the Human Rights Watch report from October 2004, is the relevant passage:
Detainees also complained about the interference with their ability to pray and the lack of respect given to their religion. For example, the British detainees state that they were never given prayer mats and initially were not provided Korans. They also complained that when the Korans were provided, the guards "would kick the Koran, throw it into the toilet and generally disrespect it."
In terms of the major point of contention, Newsweek reported nothing new at all. Of course, this assumes that people had been paying attention to any of the "negative" developments in Bush's campaign to spread democracy and destruction, but the warhawks haven't been. The rest of that post identifies a few other factors that might have led to these riots at this particular moment.

Speaking of Drudge (if we must, and in this case, we must unfortunately): on his radio show this evening, he had a lengthy discussion about the gravity and perfidiousness of Newsweek's "deadly mistake" with that always objective and non-partisan gentleman, John Fund. There was the usual head-shaking and regret that anything at all should bring disgrace to the hallowed halls of journalism, and the syrup of their sincerity was notably thick this evening. There were also a couple of key phrases, repeated several times by Fund, that I'm certain we will hear many more times in the coming week or two.

Fund said several times (I paraphrase, but this is very close, and it certainly captures the essence of what he said): "Well, of course there were some abuses at one is denying that, but..." And then Fund talked about one of the terrible errors that journalism made over the last year or so: overhyping the Abu Ghraib story. How awful of The New York Times to have highlighted this story for more than 40 days! How un-American! Who knows what damage it did to our cause?! Etc.

And then Drudge chimed in, with the oldest tactic in the book -- but a tactic which is still widely used precisely because it works so well (again paraphrasing, but close to verbatim and fully capturing the substance): "Some people will say that this is the last straw for anti-Americanism in the press." Some people? Which people are those, Drudge? Of course, he's not saying it. He's just reporting what some people will say, even though they haven't said it yet apparently.

Of course, Glenn Reynolds was on the case in a heartbeat: no opportunity to bash the "mainstream media" will be ignored for longer than a second or two by our Instant Professor. Reynolds links to this, which in turns links to Michelle Malkin, who announces
Malkin has an explanatory note about her use of "lied":
Didn't think I needed to s-p-e-l-l i-t o-u-t, but some readers asked for clarification. Newsweek was reckless and sloppy and wrong. But I do not think the magazine "lied." Just thought it a very appropriate moment to do a boomerang on the moonbats' most dishonest and annoying meme.
The point is not whether Malkin meant it literally or not: the point is to inject this "meme" into the public discussion. As I write this, Drudge is reporting on his radio show that people are telling him that pickets in front of Newsweek's NY offices on Monday will carry large signs saying, "NEWSWEEK LIED! PEOPLE DIED!" Mission accomplished, Michelle.

What I want to emphasize right now is the speed and ambitiousness of the propagandists' game here. In less than a day, they have targeted all of these issues, using the Newsweek mistake (if indeed it was one) as their freshest ammunition:

-- Minimizing to the point of non-existence all abuse and torture at Abu Ghraib

-- Minimizing to the point of non-existence all abuse and torture at Guantanamo

-- Reinforcing the idea that the mainstream media is not to be trusted on matters of national security, and that it is fundamentally anti-American

-- Introducing the idea that "some people" think the media has finally gone "too far," which carries the unavoidable implication that SOMETHING MUST BE DONE!

So what is the logical result of all this? There are at least two major results, and two major goals: first, strengthening the idea that, whatever the United States does, it is always right and anyone who questions our policies is wrong, and anti-American -- and if we do make any mistakes, they are trivial and barely worth mentioning, thus trying yet again to shut down all debate; and second, if the Bush supporters and warhawks had their way, censorship.

Censorship is what they're after, and don't let them tell you otherwise. They announced this goal unmistakably at least a year ago. (Here's the classic, regret-filled formulation: "And here's a question: Freedom of the press, as it exists today (and didn't exist, really, until the 1960s) is unlikely to survive if a majority -- or even a large and angry minority -- of Americans comes to conclude that the press is untrustworthy and unpatriotic. How far are we from that point?") Of course, they "regret" that censorship might be necessary. It's a terrible shame and all that. But damn it, if magazines like Newsweek ARE GOING TO GET PEOPLE KILLED...well, what can we do? We obviously have to shut them up. They brought it on themselves. It's their own damned fault. Of course, we'd like to have a free press, but THEY'RE GETTING PEOPLE KILLED!

And please, please don't say it can't happen here. It did happen here -- during World War I and World War II. They want to go back to the good old days, when people got thrown in jail for reading the Bill of Rights in public.

From an earlier post which described censorship during World War I, here is author Thomas Fleming describing the actual aim of today's hawks:
Oblivious to the looming disaster in France, George Creel's Committee on Public Information was hard at work creating the war will in America. By July he had assembled a small army of writers, editors, artists, actors and speakers who were churning out patriotic pamphlets, books, films and speeches for the American public. An upper echelon of former muckrakers, all ardent progressives like Creel, were given prominent roles. The CPI's motto was: "faith in democracy--faith in fact."


[T]he centerpiece of Creel's early propaganda effort was the Official Bulletin, an eight-page daily newspaper (eventually thirty-two pages) in tabloid format, which went to every paper in the United States, as well as to government agencies, military camps and the nation's 50,000 post offices. Below its title were the words: "Published Daily Under Order of the President by the Committee on Public Information, George Creel, Chairman." Individuals could subscribe for five dollars a year, and the circulation climbed rapidly to a peak of 115, 031. The paper published nothing but good news about the U.S. war effort. Wilson considered this hybrid creature his invention--which it was in some respects. Creel had initially opposed the idea. The president gleefully told Joe Tumulty that the Official Bulletin was an immense success. He added that Creel was astonished by the way it was being lapped up and reprinted by thousands of newspapers.
Today, Creel can easily be replaced by any of the warbloggers; I'm sure Reynolds, Sullivan, the Powerline guys and any number of others would be honored by the opportunity to serve.

I fully expect the Newsweek story to be all-consuming over the next week, at the very least. It will be dissected endlessly on talk radio, on cable TV, in newspapers. And throughout all the discussions, the points identified above will be emphasized without end, so that all these ideas become more widely accepted by more and more Americans: that the riots were "caused" by the Newsweek story, that the mainstream press is basically anti-American and not to be trusted, and that something might finally have to be done. That would be terrible, but that rotten, traitorous mainstream media just didn't give us decent, patriotic Americans a choice, did it?

That's how this game is played, and those are the stakes. Meanwhile, and speaking of lies and people dying, there is one story that will continue to be entirely neglected during all of this comparatively trivial public psychosis: this one. Note this page in particular.

Now there's an outright lie that unquestionably did lead to an untold number of deaths (in fact, a very lengthy series of outright lies) -- and it continues to lead to more deaths every single day. But is the media, including the warbloggers, devoting any time and attention to that? Of course not. That might reflect badly on Saint George. ...

The coming outrage is, in one important sense, as phony as it is predictable. Among his other comments, Fund said that he was deeply, deeply concerned about the Newsweek mistake because at least 16 people are dead. "It's horrible," said Mr. Fund.

And yet the warhawks never seem to find the time or emotion to note the ongoing carnage in Iraq -- carnage which is the direct result of the policies they support so strongly. But 16 deaths are invaluable when you're in the midst of a propaganda campaign.

More to come on this in the days ahead...

UPDATE: I had meant to include this point, too: I doubt very much that the Bush administration or the hawks could achieve outright censorship at this point. The outcry (from a "large and angry minority," although not the one Reynolds depends on) would be too great. But there is a secondary, lesser goal: intimidation. The hawks hope that, by endlessly beating up Newsweek and making mainstream journalism appear to be "irresponsible" to the point of "causing" deaths, the mainstream media will be far less likely to raise uncomfortable questions or write awkward stories about the various projects of the Bush administration, both foreign and domestic.

I have to admit that I find this goal altogether laughable. Given the media's craven willingness to allow Bush, et al. to get away with anything -- even blatant, repeated lies that led to an entirely unnecessary war (to say nothing of Judith Miller's propaganda releases from Chalabi dutifully printed by the NYT, injecting fear and paralysis of thought directly into the public's arteries and gearing everyone up for war against the non-existent threat of Iraq) -- I don't see how much more craven the general media could be. But obviously the hawks' standards and mine on this question, as on so many others, are hardly the same. So I'm certain that the hawks would greatly prefer that the mainstream media assume a completely supine pose, and remove whatever tiny sliver of spine they have left while they're at it. And then Reynolds, Powerline, and the rest of the gang can simply dictate the latest war "news" for publication by all the major outlets.